For Pamela Gregg Flax, a New Mexico-based practitioner and student in AOMA’s new doctoral program, the efficacy and magic of Chinese medicine have never been a question. Chinese medicine has been her primary form of healthcare for 25 years -- but her decision to become a practitioner came as a surprise, even to her.
Early in her career, she worked in the arts and in environmental philanthropy in Los Angeles. Pamela moved to Santa Fe to marry the man who is now her husband and began learning a healing form called Sat Nam Rasayan (SNR). SNR is a meditative technique described as a traditional healing based on self-consciousness alone. This healing tradition is a ‘familiar’ to Craniosacral Therapy, but comes from the lineage of Kundalini yoga.
“I thought that my interest in SNR was to improve my meditation skills, but I discovered a love of healing,” Pamela says.
On a trip back to LA, Pamela told her acupuncturists that she wished she could do what they do. They encouraged her, and that was all it took—she was in school for her master’s degree in Chinese medicine a few weeks later. “The art of Chinese medicine still speaks to my core, as its subtle power and poetry continue to amaze, delight, and humble me,” she says.
Pamela describes her path to AOMA as “intuitive and visceral.” After she completed her master’s degree program in New Mexico, she enrolled in two year-long continuing education programs. However, something wasn’t right about the decision.
“The plumbing started leaking in my office and home, and I could feel a weird tremor in my body, like I was jittery or resisting the force of a fast off-camber turn on my bicycle,” she says. “As soon as I accepted that I was headed in the wrong direction and withdrew from the classes, the tremor vanished and the leaks stopped. I was disappointed, but took heart in knowing that a strong current was moving me forward, albeit in an unknown direction.”
A couple of months later, Pamela started studying pulse diagnosis with Dr. William Morris. When she asked him about AOMA’s new doctoral program, he said, “The first cohort starts on Wednesday. What do you want to know?” and she felt that moment of recognition, an inexorable pull of destiny, that the path of her life would now shift in an unexpected yet welcome way. She expects to graduate from AOMA’s doctoral program in 2015. Her initial research topic – How Chinese Medicine Can Intervene in Multigenerational Trauma – is changing her practice.
“I feel lucky to be at AOMA at this point in my career because it’s re-shaping me and my practice in the most unexpected ways. My query has led me to the field of Oriental Reproductive Medicine. Philosophically and practically I’m exploring the role that creativity plays in a vibrant life. I’m studying for the ABORM certification, connecting with Santa Fe birthing centers, and treating pregnant women. I love my work more than ever.” Pamela says. “And I love AOMA. It’s a strong institution with excellent resources: a ‘deep bench’ of teachers and fellow doctoral students, a stellar herbal pharmacy, and great leadership. Dr. Morris and Dr. Finnell have developed a DAOM program that has the potential to help move integrative medicine and medical inquiry forward with integrity, and I’m glad to be part of it.”
Outside of AOMA, Pamela has a new practice at her own clinic, Full Well Acupuncture, which she spends a considerable amount of time cultivating. She’s not only a former competitive cyclist, Kundalini yoga teacher, and Qigong practitioner – she’s also an artist who especially loves visual arts, theatre/performance, architecture and design. Her husband is an actor and director who runs a theater company in Santa Fe, so Pam calls herself a “theater wife/widow.”
“We try to keep up with our old adobe house and resuscitate our land,” she says. “Now that I’m attending school in the land of music and everyone in Austin plays at least one instrument, I’m trying learning to play a recorder. I’m kind of terrible but having fun, and I’m getting ready to order a Chinese flute called the bawu.”
One of Pamela’s proudest achievements since she started studying Chinese medicine is making a believer out of her husband.
“He hates receiving acupuncture but insisted that I treat his last good knee after he tore his meniscus,” Pamela says. “He feels that the treatments helped heal his knee and prevented imminent surgery, and I’m thrilled to report that he is finally able to relax when he has acupuncture.”
Pamela is also very pleased to have helped a woman with a high-risk pregnancy go full term and have a healthy baby. She also enjoyed helping people avoid joint replacement surgeries and lumbar fusions, arrest the development of macular degeneration and begin a reversal process, heal or manage a new life with traumatic brain injuries, and feel some peace in transforming old emotional pain.
That’s not to say there haven’t been some challenges along her path.
Pamela and her mentor thought that they would go into practice after she graduated from her master’s degree program, but after visiting China, Pam felt moved to practice differently and knew that their paths would diverge. Telling him was painful for both of them, but – “acquiescing to truth is liberating,” she says. “I had to trust my instincts.”
Pamela loves the poetry and metaphor inherent in the theory of Chinese medicine and the way that the medicine seems to reveal more and more according to the depth of the practitioner. She is also deeply appreciative of “the focus on continual cultivation of the human spirit of the practitioner and the patient; and its simultaneous complexity and simplicity.”
“Years ago I vowed to live my life out of love and not fear,” Pamela says. ”I love this medicine. Thank you to everyone at AOMA for moving so dynamically and with such kindness to join my river with yours.”
Her advice to other students?
“Enjoy the journey. Trust the medicine. Trust yourself.”
The first cohort of DAOM students share why they chose AOMA’s doctor of acupuncture and Oriental medicine program.
“My choice to pursue my doctorate at AOMA is an easy one because my experience at AOMA (in the master’s program) went beyond all my expectations. The professors and clinic supervisors were outstanding professionals, approachable and eager to support my learning. When the program was over, I felt very well prepared to begin my practice. I have nothing but enthusiasm about returning.” – Debbie Vaughn
The DAOM at AOMA focuses on the care and management of patients with pain and associated psychosocial phenomena. This has been a key deciding factor for some in choosing the program.
“The AOMA doctoral program on pain care and the psychosocial world offers an exploration of what it means to be human, and that interests me. Pain as a locus of inquiry and a portal into human consciousness is simply brilliant. Pain is a pivot point for people, one that is difficult to ignore and a primary reason for visiting a Chinese medical practitioner.” – Pamela Gregg Flax
Learners develop advanced skills and techniques to care for patients in a collaborative medical setting, and benefit directly from a number of integrative clinical education opportunities.
“When my patients entrust their health to my knowledge, I believe that it is my responsibility to continue learning and become the best that I can. Initially, I chose AOMA because I had heard of Dr. William Morris, his profound knowledge in TCM and pulse-taking techniques, and his dedication to the TCM field. After finishing two terms at AOMA, I realized that all of the faculty here are also the best in their specialties. This is rare to find. The guest lecturers are also the best in their field and are willing to share their knowledge and success. Not only is TCM taught more in-depth, but biomedicine and research methods are also emphasized. Moreover, AOMA has the affiliation with hospitals and other major universities where I will be able to learn an integrative approach to healthcare and get access to the tools needed for my research.” - Thang Quoc Bui
DAOM graduates gain research experience and are prepared to participate in the broader dialogue surrounding the efficacy of TCM and its integration with mainstream paradigms of healthcare. AOMA’s doctoral program prepares learners to explore paradigms of inquiry and use both quantitative and qualitative assessment to conduct and publish individual or group research projects.
“It is now time to move forward and forge new dreams, to build on what I know and journey into what I do not. We need innovative thinkers and healthcare providers to create explainable models describing the mechanisms behind the tools that we use.” - James Phillips
AOMA DAOM graduates are poised for medical academic leadership. Licensed acupuncturists with a doctoral degree cultivate expertise in the field, becoming more effective health care providers and sought-after scholars.
“After 10 years of private practice, I am ready to prepare myself for teaching. The philosophy and structure of the doctoral program at AOMA will further my skills and knowledge to prepare me for teaching in a master’s level program in Oriental medicine, so that new students understand the foundations of Oriental medicine. I think a doctoral level education is necessary to offer this level of teaching.” – Donna Guthery
AOMA’s first cohort of doctor of acupuncture and Oriental medicine students are learning essential skills, preparing to succeed as instructors, researchers or leaders in the field, and also to improve clinical outcomes and provide a higher level of care to patients.
AOMA’s doctoral program director, Dr. John Finnell, shares what he believes to be the top benefits of attaining a doctor of acupuncture and Oriental medicine degree.
More than ever, I believe that doctoral and post-graduate education prepare the next generation of thought leaders and clinicians to move the field of acupuncture and Oriental medicine forward.
Our role in healthcare
Our healthcare landscape needs highly trained clinicians, researchers, and leaders to move the profession forward. Doctoral-level education provides parity at the policymaking table. This may operate institutionally, governmentally, or within the domain of patient care. Parity by title levels the playing field with regard to co-operative patient care.
While a doctoral degree alone does not confer success, it does provide one with a credential to fill leadership positions within academia, act as the principle investigator on NIH-funded research, teach at the doctoral level, and oversee doctoral-level clinical education.
The respect brought by the doctoral title is a feature which enhances patient care and establishes parity with other doctorally prepared professions. Specifically, licensed acupuncturists with a doctorate often find better prospects for hospital employment and faculty positions, and for obtaining research grants and a seat at the table in policy-making processes.
Move the profession forward
Doctoral training does provide the rare opportunity for us to explore our intellectual passions and create a new body of knowledge as the fruit of our scholarship. This same scholarship is the cornerstone to the foundation upon which our profession is built. This is not a stagnant process; the evolution of acupuncture and Oriental medicine (AOM) in North America must be actualized through participation of its members.
Actualizing requires a few key ingredients: vision, action, perseverance, belief, and transformation. All of these ingredients may be found as you pursue your career path. AOMA's DAOM program provides the platform upon which to solidify your role in the actualization of the field of AOM in the next century.
Finally, there are those of us who truly believe in the power of this medicine and want to learn as much as we can to better serve our patients. Improving your knowledge in pain management and the psychosocial aspects associated with pain is certain to improve patient outcomes and your satisfaction as an advanced practitioner of Chinese medicine.
Dr. John is an accomplished researcher and skilled health care practitioner with a rich academic and professional background. His interest in lifestyle and environmental determinants of health led him to earn a Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine and a Master of Science in Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine from Bastyr University, as well as a Master of Public Health in Epidemiology from the University of Washington. As a practitioner of Naturopathic and Chinese medicines, Dr. Finnell’s clinical focus is on nutrition, pharmacognosy, herb-drug interactions, mind-body medicine, disease prevention, and lifestyle education. In addition to maintaining a professional Naturopathic and Chinese medicine practice, Dr. Finnell has also completed a post-doctoral fellowship with the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), and served as the acting Director of Research for the TrueNorth Health Foundation. Dr. Finnell’s strong research background and clinical experience as a Naturopathic and Chinese medicine practitioner enable him to bring an evidence-based and integrative perspective to AOMA’s doctoral program.
Each year, AOMA Graduate School of Integrative Medicine sponsors the Southwest Symposium (SWS) - a premier, 3-day continuing education and integrative medicine conference. The event brings together practitioners, educators, and other health care professionals from the fields of acupuncture & Chinese medicine, massage therapy, and naturopathic medicine.
Visit Our Booth:
AOMA's admissions office staff will be on-site at SWS to provide information and answer questions about the Doctor of Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine (DAOM) program.
Be sure to visit us at booth # 20 to meet Dr. John Finnell, DAOM Program Director, and enter a drawing to win a free gift!
About the DAOM Program:
The Doctor of Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine program is a transformative educational experience that prepares master's-level practitioners to become leaders in the care and management of patients with pain and its associated psychosocial phenomena. This rigorous program will challenge you to develop advanced clinical techniques, strong academic research skills, and to cultivate professional leadership abilities.
About the event:
Southwest Symposium 2014: The Heart of the Medicine
February 14-16, 2014
AOMA’s premier doctoral program welcomes its first cohort of students this summer and the program director, Dr. John Finnell, has been hard at work recruiting world-class faculty and putting the finishing touches on the doctoral program curriculum. Check out this easy-to-browse overview of the curriculum with links to DAOM faculty rosters.
DAOM Program Overview
DAOM Program Competencies
Integrate Traditional Chinese Medicine and Biomedical Concepts
Pain Management Specialty
Leadership, Teaching & Professionalism
DAOM Curriculum: TCM Theory, Classics and Techniques
Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine Faculty
DAOM Curriculum: Topics in Pain and Associated Psychosocial Phenomena
Pain in oncologic and palliative care
Gynecologic, pelvic and visceral pain
Vascular and lymphatic pain
Neurological, sensory and dermatologic pain
Pain from musculoskeletal disorders
Eco-psychosocial pain and associated psycho social phenomena
Integrative Clinical Partnerships
AOMA Clinics - Specialty pain clinics
Austin Pain Associates - Integrative pain management
Seton Family of Hospitals and Clinics
DAOM Curriculum: Integrative Medicine
Integrative Medicine Faculty
Biomedical Theories of Pain
Functional & Nutritional Medicine
Integrative Medical Practice
DAOM Curriculum: Research & Inquiry
Research & Inquiry Faculty
Paradigms of Inquiry - Exploration of scientific paradigms and beliefs
Qualitative and Quantitative Assessment - Overview of types of research
Research Methods and Design - Design of research proposal and Institutional Review Board application
Research Project - Publication of research manuscript
Potential Inquiry Topics (examples)
Mixed Methods Research
DAOM Curriculum: Leadership, Professionalism & Teaching
Professionalism & Leadership Faculty
Educational techniques and technology
Developing effective teaching materials
Supervision and evaluation of student clinicians
Ready to learn more? Explore the Program:
AOMA believes strongly in leadership. One feature of that value is the knowledge of each other’s story. Director of Community Relations, Sarah Bentley, interviews Doctoral Program of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine Director Dr. John S. Finnell to gain insight on the journey to his role within the AOMA community.
Please briefly describe your background and where you’re from.
I was born in Odessa and raised in Plano, Texas, and my family roots are laid down in Holiday and Archer City. I consider myself fortunate to have experienced life in other cultures, like Seattle, Spain, Sweden and Poland. I also learned much from my travels throughout North America, other parts of Europe and Latin America. Never lose sight of where you’re from, because it leads to where you’re going!
Please briefly describe your path to Traditional Chinese Medicine.
From the start, I was faced with my own health challenges and spent my formative years in and out of surgery, casts and braces for correction of clubbed-feet. I think that it was a fire sparked at age seven by my orthopedist, who fated me with being pigeon-toed for the rest of my life, that led me to Traditional Chinese Medicine. It was that fire that fueled my intention to walk for years with my feet outward, until one day I became aware that they were straight. It is that same spark and fire that we cultivate in our patients that inspires their intention to heal from within.
Please briefly describe your career path so far in the field of acupuncture and Oriental medicine.
After undergraduate studies in chemistry and graduate studies in environmental engineering and sustainable infrastructure, I spent five years pursuing a career as an environmental contractor, primarily for the Environmental Protection Agency. It was the direct experience of investigating the most toxic places in our environment that inspired me to alter my focus from remediation of environmental health disasters to helping others regain their health and live in balance on this planet. Upon completing my Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine and MS in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine at Bastyr University, I embarked post-doctoral training in complementary and alternative medicine research, sponsored by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM). During my postdoc, I conducted a clinical trial on vitamin D and Klotho (a marker of aging) and completed a master of public health in epidemiology at the University of Washington. I also worked on developing bio-molecular models of metabolism and aging for application to research in Oriental medicine. I likewise completed a clinical research residency at the TrueNorth Health Center in Santa Rosa, California, where I studied the safety of medically supervised water-fasting. In addition to my scholarly activities, I had a thriving medical practice at the Seattle Nature Cure Clinic, in which I integrated care with both Naturopathic and Oriental medicines.
Talk about the benefits of doctoral education in acupuncture and Oriental medicine.
I truly feel that my doctoral and post-graduate education have broadened my understanding of the challenges that we humans face living on God’s green earth. Doctoral training does provide the rare opportunity for us to explore our intellectual passions and create a new body of knowledge as the fruit of our scholarship. While a doctoral degree in acupuncture alone does not confer success, it does provide one with a credential to fill leadership positions within academia, act as the principle investigator on NIH funded research, teach at the doctoral level, and oversee doctoral-level clinical education. I am passionate about understanding the Naturopathic concept of the vital force ‘the Vis,’ and the Chinese concept of ‘Qi.’ I believe that these are more than concepts and that they are in fact measurably reflected in human physiology. It was my doctoral and post-graduate education that gave me the tools and vocabulary needed for my lifelong pursuit of exploring and understanding these concepts so fundamental to Naturopathic and Chinese medicines. Actualizing requires a few key ingredients: vision, action, perseverance, belief, and transformation. All of these ingredients may be found as you pursue your own dreams. My doctoral, and post-graduate, education provided the platform upon which I actualized mine.
What has been the most transformational experience you’ve had since starting on the path of Chinese medicine?
In 1993, while visiting the medical school at the University of Washington, a dear friend of mine, who knew of my passion for herbal medicine and the environment, suggested that I visit a small herbal medicine school in Seattle. I replied, “I am serious about my education!,” and was led, instead, to pursue graduate education and a career as an environmental engineer, thus sealing the first turn of my fate. Ten years later, I again began the pursuit of medical education, and another dear friend, knowing my holistic sensibilities, suggested that I instead consider a small acupuncture school in Austin. Now this is where it gets interesting! By the end of that same day, I came across a dual degree program in holistic medicine – a marriage of all that I was seeking. Thereafter, I embarked upon the second turn of my fate, and I set my intention to bring the knowledge that I gained in Naturopathic and Chinese medicines back to Texas. The scents of Seattle brought forth the memory and realization that I was attending that same ‘small herbal medicine school in Seattle’ – Bastyr University. Ten years later, with the fulfillment of my intention to bring the fruits of my pursuit of Naturopathic and Chinese medicines back to Texas, I now embark on the third turn of my fate at the ‘small acupuncture school in Austin.’ I would say that the dance between my early indoctrination and my life’s calling led to my most transformational experience, which was accepting my fate and pursuing it with all of my heart. It is no mystery that fate has guided me back to AOMA, and the future is full of possibilities.
Please share some accomplishments with us. What are you most proud of?
I am most proud of pursuing my dreams, despite the dreams that others may have for me. Whether it was my orthopedist telling me that I would be pigeon-toed for the rest of my life, mentors telling me to just become an MD and change the system from within, or deans telling me that I was ‘crazy’ to study Naturopathic and Chinese medicines and pursue further training in public health and research: I had a vision and put it into action; I lost sleep but persevered; I believed with all of my heart; and lo and behold I transformed into the dream. Though some may say that we have more than one life to live, I live as if I have just the one. I hope that everyone has the chance to fulfill their dreams as I have.
Tell us one unexpected thing about yourself.
I come from a musical family, and spent my early years mastering the trombone, baritone and tuba. I may be considered the black sheep in my family for turning away from a career in music, but my family does appreciate having a doctor around. Something unexpected – you may have heard me playing tuba or bass-trombone in a Dixieland jazz band on the streets of Stockholm!
The doctoral program in acupuncture and Oriental medicine at AOMA begins in July, 2013. The two-year program is has a modular format, coupling week-long, intensive, on-campus learning experiences with extended periods of home study, allowing working professionals to continue their practice while enrolled. Here are the specific dates for the academic calendar.
AOMA’s vision of scholarship focuses upon advanced clinical specialists, collaborators, educators, researchers, and leaders. “A doctoral program at AOMA builds upon the strong master’s program providing our graduates and other practitioners with an opportunity to realize their dreams,” according to President William Morris.
The AOMA community has a passion for quality, excellence and deep self-reflection. As a result, since its founding in 1993, AOMA has grown by every important measure from its student body, faculty, accreditation and campus facilities to patients and community outreach.
The doctoral program in acupuncture and Oriental medicine provides a specific example of AOMA’s search for quality and depth, which is reflected in the status as the second regionally accredited DAOM program in the U.S. President Morris paused for consideration, "This achievement signifies AOMA’s passion, commitment and care for its mission of transforming lives and communities."
All doctoral programs in acupuncture and Oriental medicine are post-graduate clinical doctorates. AOMA sought input from its surrounding communites of interest and created a program that focuses upon the management and care of patients with pain and associated psycho-social disorders.
In January, AOMA hired the director of the doctoral program in acupuncture and oriental medicine, Dr. John S. Finnell. Dr. Finnell is an accomplished researcher and skilled health care practitioner with a rich academic and professional background. Prior to beginning his career in integrative medicine, Dr. Finnell completed a Masters of Science in environmental engineering at the Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden. His interest in lifestyle and environmental determinants of health then lead him to earn a Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine and a Masters of Science in Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine from Bastyr University, as well as a Masters of Public Health in Epidemiology from the University of Washington. As a practitioner of Naturopathic and Chinese medicines, Dr. Finnell’s clinical focus is on nutrition, pharmacognosy, herb-drug interactions, mind-body medicine and qigong as well as translational medicine, disease prevention, and lifestyle education.
In addition to maintaining a professional Naturopathic and Chinese medicine practice, Dr. Finnell has also completed a post-doctoral fellowship with the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), and served as the acting Director of Research for the True North Health Foundation. He has lead and participated in numerous research studies, including “Vitamin D and Aging: Unraveling the Regulatory Axis between Vitamin D and Klotho”, funded by NCCAM (2009-2012), and “A Comparative Effectiveness Trial of High-quality Vitamin D3 Nutritional Supplements to Replete Serum Vitamin D”, funded by the Diabetes Action Research & Education Foundation (2009-2011). A frequent presenter at professional conferences throughout the U.S. and Canada, his work has appeared in peer-reviewed journals such as the Journal of Alternative & Complementary Medicine. Dr. Finnell’s strong research background and clinical experience as Naturopathic and Chinese medicine practitioner enable him to bring an evidence-based and integrative perspective to AOMA’s doctoral program in acupuncture and Oriental medicine.